Os Win Pitching Stare Down, Edge Sox 2-1


Pitching match ups are for baseball purists. Screw monster moon shot homers and laser shot mashing. All I need is for someone to say, “Low scoring baseball games are so boring.” and I make an instant judgement. When two pitchers on their game lock horns it takes strategy, managerial guile and station to station execution to move the needle. Such was the case when Josh Beckett (4-5) and Wei-Yin Chen (4-2) faced off at Fenway Park Wednesday night.

For the first half of the game Beckett was more than stout. He faced the minimum number of Oriole hitters. One hit and a double play kept the number at 15 batters through five innings.

Baltimore’s Wei-Yin Chen matched Beckett, pitching a solid five innings as well. Boston earned one run off Chen in the bottom of the third when Darnell McDonald smoked a double off the left centerfield wall, moved to third on a Marlon Byrd single and scored on a Mike Aviles sacrifice fly.

In the sixth the Os finally got to Beckett, again with no fireworks; just solid get ’em on, get ’em over and get ’em in baseball. Beckett got jammed up when Wilson Betemit, Ryan Flaherty and Robert Andino singled, the last hit plating Betemit. Beckett induced Endy Chavez to ground out to Dustin Pedroia but it scored Flaherty. J. J. Hardy grounded into a double play to end the inning. It could have been a lot worse but Beckett was, nevertheless, down 2-1.

Boston threatened in the bottom of the seventh when Adrian Gonzalez and Jarrod Saltalamacchia led off with back-to-back singles. In an obvious bunt situation, Darnell McDonald did the job, pushing a bunt between the mound and third base. Chen bounded off the bump and looked to third to make the play. Third baseman Betemit, however, had started to charge the ball and Chen had only the play to first. Chen struck out Byrd to set the stage for a two on, two out face-off with Mike Aviles. Aviles limply popped out to first base and Chen was was out of the inning unscathed, clinging to a 2-1 lead.

After a quiet top half of the inning, the Sox were back in business in the bottom of the eighth as hard-throwing Orioles reliever Pedro Strop walked Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz back-to-back after striking out Pedroia. Strop looked like he was on the ropes but settled down to get Will Middlebrooks on a fly ball and Scott Podsednik on a hot grounder to first to end the inning.

Oriole closer Jim Johnson shut the door hard in the ninth, taking the Sox down 1, 2, 3 and a fine Beckett performance was squandered as Chen and Baltimore’s bullpen was just that much better.

These 2012 Birds who have made quite a squawk in April through most of May are starting to come down from their high flying start. The telltale signs are there. Buck’s crew is dead last in the majors in team fielding. Since May 20 the Orioles are 5-10 and are deadlocked with Rays in a first place tie.

"The snake eating it’s own tail that is the American League East will eventually take it’s toll. It just may not be the Birds that go down this time. Why? Pitching my friend, pitching."

The Orioles are eighth in the majors in team ERA (3.75). Boston is 28th (team ERA 4.58). Last time I checked there are only 30 teams in the bigs. Their bullpen is first in saves, their entire staff 3rd in wins. If this keeps up and if they can improve their defense this edition of the Baltimore Orioles could very well be in the hunt down the stretch. And that is bad news for Boston. Sorta like a 2-1 loss to a team that you used to regularly kick the crap out of for a decade.

Footnote: Adrian Gonzalez was late on almost every pitch thrown to him last night. He fouled off some really great pitches to hit. Although he did get one soft single to left, something is not right.